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Not opening books on Windsor NextStar EV plant is ’injustice’ to Canada's skilled trades, House committee told

The NextStar EV battery plant in Windsor, Ont., is shown under construction in the summer of 2023. A House of Commons committee on Monday began hearing arguments for and against opening the books on the plant, which is receiving billions in government subsidies.

The NextStar EV battery plant in Windsor, Ont., is shown under construction in the summer of 2023. A House of Commons committee on Monday began hearing arguments for and against opening the books on the plant, which is receiving billions in government subsidies.

Photo: CBC/TJ Dhir

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Standing committee on government operations-estimates met Monday, continues at future date

An emergency committee meeting on Parliament Hill about the NextStar electric vehicle (EV) battery plant in Windsor, Ont., was told Monday that Canadians feel as though jobs are being stolen from their fingertips. 

Meanwhile, a Windsor-area Liberal MP says opponents are playing politics.

Conservative MP Chris Lewis, whose riding is in Essex, which neighbours Windsor, made the comment about stolen jobs before the House of Commons standing committee on government operations and estimates (OGGO) in Ottawa.

The meeting lasted two hours before being suspended due to time constraints and will continue at a future date.

NextStar's plan to hire 1,600 technicians, including 900 temporary staff mainly from South Korea, to install and test equipment has been met with backlash from labour unions, the public and some government officials.

The company says these are highly specialized jobs that require a specific expertise that the South Korean workers have. And the Liberals say these foreign-trained workers will be paving the way for about 2,500 local jobs.

The committee is hearing several motions surrounding the release of documents about the deal. The Conservatives are pushing the ruling Liberals, carmaker Stellantis and LG Energy Solution to reveal the details of their contracts for building the factory, which is getting $15 billion in federal and provincial subsidies.

To suggest we don't open the books on this … anything shy of that answer is doing an injustice to our skilled trades jobs, said Lewis, who said he has had conversations with labour unions on their views about the hiring of foreign workers to help in the plant's construction.

Conservative MP Chris Lewis, who represents Essex, says all Canadians — specifically southwestern Ontario residents — deserve answers about how their tax dollars are being spent when it comes to job creation.

Conservative MP Chris Lewis, who represents Essex, says all Canadians — specifically southwestern Ontario residents — deserve answers about how their tax dollars are being spent when it comes to job creation.

Photo: Équipe Chris Lewis

Lewis said all Canadians — specifically southwestern Ontario residents — deserve answers about how their tax dollars are being spent when it comes to job creation.

I think it would be the world's biggest mistake if we didn't look at the … investment.

Toronto-area Liberal MP Charles Sousa was against a motion to open the contracts to the public through the committee and the House of Commons.

Sousa said doing so could endanger the NextStar deal and future investment opportunities for Canada.

I'm a little shocked actually that we have an opportunity here to continue to enable foreign direct investment, he said.

Liberal Mississauga-Lakeshore MP Charles Sousa says opening the contracts to the country 'could endanger the NextStar deal and future investment opportunities for Canada.'

Liberal Mississauga-Lakeshore MP Charles Sousa says opening the contracts to the country 'could endanger the NextStar deal and future investment opportunities for Canada.'

Photo: Radio-Canada / Benoit Roussel

These are confidential matters. So for us to provide, expose and put those matters at risk and jeopardize the very existence of the enablement of these investments coming to Canada.

NDP MP Gord, who represents Courtenay—Alberni in B.C., Johns agreed with the Conservatives' push to have the contracts revealed, but didn't think they needed to route through the House of Commons — instead, only filtering back through the OGGO.

Calling it a failure in leadership, Johns said questions surrounding the inclusion of foreign workers at the Windsor plant have caused confusion for Canadians and damaged public trust among unions and communities.

A national auto strategy, something the NDP has called for over two decades, would've provided that transparency and accountability this government has decided to ignore.

'Sunlight is the best disinfectant,' says Scheer

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Andrew Scheer said that if the NextStar agreement is as good a deal as the Liberals say it is — and impactful for Canadian workers — the government should want to make the details public.

Scheer, who represents the riding of Regina—Qu'Appelle, said sunlight is the best disinfectant.

We want to bring the details of this contract out of the dark and into the light.

Conservative Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer says if the NextStar agreement is as good a deal as the Liberals say it is, the government should want to make the details public.

Conservative Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer says if the NextStar agreement is as good a deal as the Liberals say it is, the government should want to make the details public.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Sean Kilpatrick

Scheer said ordering the companies and government to release the contract would get to the facts surrounding the hiring intentions of Stellantis and LG Energy Solution.

Foreign replacement workers coming to Canada thanks to taxpayer subsidies is of interest to not just the workers in the area, but every single Canadian family whose tax bill is underwriting this.

Liberal MP Irek Kusmiercyzk, who represents Windsor-Tecumseh, put forward an amendment to the meeting's original motion that, if passed, would have ordered the government and NextStar to make the contract details public.

As a Windsorite, this is the most important investment in the history of our community, he said. This is not the place to play politics.

Kusmiercyzk said that when he spoke with Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy last week, he too stressed there will be 2,500 permanent full-time local workers, and the jobs would be unionized under their umbrella.

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